Every year around this time, Joanne Boogaard buys some space in the Regina Leader-Post and writes a letter to her son, Derek. She lets him know that the family still celebrates his birthday every year and that there’s always a place set aside for him at Christmas. She gets him up to speed on where life is taking all of his family and extended family and she tells her son how much she still misses him.
This year, she did it for the eighth time. “Remembering you is easy,” she said in this year’s message. “Tears fall from my eyes, my heart aches, but when I remember the happy times we had, a smile comes to my face, so many emotions.”
Derek Boogaard, the former enforcer for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers, died eight years ago Monday from an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone. Since that time, the Boogaard family has fought for the NHL to accept some accountability in his death to almost no avail. Separate lawsuits brought against the NHL and NHL Players’ Association were both dismissed in court, the one against the union because the judge ruled the Boogaards waited too long to file their claim and the wrongful death lawsuit against the league on procedural grounds. The family was offered the same $22,000 other former players were offered as part of the $18.9 million settlement of the concussion lawsuit against the NHL, an amount Joanne Boogaard said the family declined to accept. “That’s a slap in the face,” she said. “That’s a slap in the face. That’s not what we want.”
Jordan Hart, the son of former NHLer Garry Hart, was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone in relation to the case and received one-year probation. Oscar Johnson, the former physician’s assistant with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL, who allegedly supplied the pills to Hart, who then gave them to Boogaard, was charged with 26 counts of possession with the intent to distribute oxycodone and one count of making a false statement. Johnson pled guilty to one of the counts in 2015 and has yet to be sentenced. He has since been charged with forcible sodomy and object rape in another matter. Boogaard’s brother, Aaron, was charged with interfering with the scene of a death and received a stayed sentence.
The yearly letters Joanne Boogaard writes are, of course, cathartic, but they also help keep the memory of her son alive. She also does it to make sure that since there hasn’t been much accountability around her son’s death, it’s important that people remember him. “Why do I do it?” Joanne Boogaard told TheHockeyNews.com. “Because I don’t want people to forget him. I don’t want his death to be done, forgotten, gone. People have to be aware. He’s not an isolated case.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has doubled- and tripled-down on his stance that there is no direct link between multiple concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Just as recently as two weeks ago, Bettman told a Canadian parliamentary subcommittee on concussions in sports: “I don’t believe, based on everything I’ve been told, and if anybody has information to the contrary we’d be happy to hear it, other than some anecdotal evidence, there hasn’t been that conclusive link.” Given the league’s victories in both the Boogaard case and the class action lawsuit, that stance has served Bettman and the league very well.
Joanne Boogaard said she has only spoken with Bettman once, shortly after her son’s death, and has admittedly “kept pretty quiet.” But the wounds also still run very deep and the passage of time hasn’t blunted her feelings that the league and those around her son could have done much more to prevent his death. “Bettman has swept it under the carpet. Everything,” she said. “Everything Derek went through. Goodness me, they treated him. Now would your kid want to be treated that way? Did Derek want to be treated that way? I’ll keep going until Bettman takes some sort of responsibility instead of, ‘No, no, no.’ ”
The anniversary of Derek Boogaard’s death always comes around Mother’s Day and this year her family got together the way they do every year. Her son would be 37 in June if he were still alive. Joanne Boogaard wonders what might have been had her son not died that night in Minnesota and the alternative is not very appealing, even if he had lived and been able to get his life on track. “I would probably be changing his diapers in a couple of years,” she said, referring to the CTE found in his brain after his death that indicated he would have had dementia by middle age. “And that’s a hard pill to swallow.”
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